Electronic books from the contrabandist's perspective

Intended utility is one thing, but the improvisational skill of contrabandists is quite another

Have you used one of the new electronic books that have hit the market over the past few years? Amazon's Kindle, Apple's iPad, Barnes & Noble's Nook: They are all amazing. Imagine carrying hundreds of volumes worth of data in a single, paper-back-sized case. These devices will change the way we read.

Intended utility is one thing, but the improvisational skill of contrabandists is quite another. While much has been written on the many uses of--and hiding places in-- print books, let's explore these e-books the eyes of the contrabandist. How can an enterprising offender transform any e-book reader into something dangerous?

E-readers present these obvious dangers:

  • Parts of e-books can be altered into stabbing implements. It is as easy as bending, melting or scraping any part of the machine.
  • Many e-books have a removable data card that can store huge amounts of information, creating a dangerous opportunity for inmates to hide and pass information as contraband. With data cards, documents can easily be created, stored and swapped. Types of dangerous information can include: security threat group rules, gang “constitutions” and “charters”; gambling records; and personal data concerning staff.
  • Some e-books have wireless connectivity. This feature could be used to acquire restricted publications online. Consider the many books and magazines that are forbidden for the sake of security. With e-books, the door is wide open for inmates to acquire these publications.
  • Concealment. Most e-books have back covers that can come off, providing the opportunity for storage in plain sight; it doesn't take much space to store narcotic powders or pills.
  • Auxiliary parts can also pose a threat. For instance, many e-book chargers are compatible with cell phone ports, meaning e-book chargers (which, if your facility has e-books, are authorized by your prisoner property policy directive) can be used to charge cell phones. No one can really deny that cell phones are corrections' biggest contraband headache of the decade. Their presence menaces security with covert communications and recording capabilities, and we don't need to exacerbate that problem.

I personally like e-books. They make long vacations or airport trips much more pleasant. And I may be wrong, but the future of books—including the future of books in corrections—is electric.

All items are potentially dangerous in prison, and in a perfect world, manufactures would modify their products to eliminate contraband hazards. In the real world, as new items are approved, corrections professionals must continue to stay ahead of the creative and dangerous minds of contrabandists.

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